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Romancing the Seed



Winter. Once again, it’s seed buying time, planning time, dreaming time. On a frosty Colorado Saturday morn, as I sit at the kitchen table and browse my favorite catalogues, my thoughts turn to vegetables, to spring, . . . to love. I muse at how, in spring, all the garden becomes a stage for romance. Pregnant buds on trees, after a wintertime of slow hidden growth, open, joyously revealing perfect leaves and flowers. Birds sing throaty songs of mating, and bees begin their explorations, helping flowers meet.

In the catalogue I see asparagus, sex incarnate as they begin pushing up through the earth, thin chartreuse phalluses. Precoce d’Argenteuil from an Italian supplier sounds especially intriguing. In the photo it is handsome—rosy purple in color with only a bit of green at the head.

Another variety, Purple Passion, catches my eye. These deep burgundy men have a higher sugar content than their green counterparts. Although they turn green upon cooking, I learn that sweet young spears are often savored raw. I imagine eating them in the proper way, with the fingers.

Another page offers peas. Of all the springtime blossoms, the darling peas are probably the most delicate, the most like Georgia O’Keeffe masterpieces in miniature. Paradoxically, the catalogue boasts varieties with male names—mighty English peas named Green Arrow, Mr. Big, and Knight. That makes me wonder if they’re macho after all, but then I think of the babies, the peas in the pods.

Peas . . . seeds . . . suddenly I’m in my sun-filled potting shed, basking in the new March warmth. I roll up my sleeves, readying myself for a few hours of planting seeds, assisting nature’s miracles of birth. As I begin to work, my husband Andy surprises me with a visit. I am so pleased by his offer to help. We toil side by side, enjoying the musky smell of soil going into pots, the feel of the tepid water we spill, and the warm sunshine as it envelopes us from the window. Birds twitter and cavort outside, in rapturous mating rituals. They are happy spring is coming. We are happy, too. My husband says I look beautiful, even though my face is smudged with dirt and my hair is unloosed from its kerchief. As our fingers caress and count seeds, cover them, push them into the damp soil, the room heats up.

Our fingers touch when we reach for the watering can. Everything becomes sweetly electric, spring-fevery. The potting shed door closes, and . . .

My husband has walked into the kitchen. He notices my daydreamy smile. “Try not to overspend this time on seeds,” he says, “like you always do.”

“Whatever,” I say, my smile fading like a pressed flower.

Alas, my sexy potting shed is total fantasy. All my seedlings are started in the chilly unfinished basement, below shelves of fluorescent lights that illuminate a frightening amount of dust and cobwebs.

I move on to the eggplants. I find that new this year is Slim Jim. Slim Jim is supposed to be exceptionally early, garden flower pretty, long, slender, purple, mild. Maybe I’d enjoy its sensual flavor in a favorite Italian dish, Pollo con le Melanzane e I Pomodori Freshi (fricasseed chicken with eggplant and fresh tomatoes). Delicioso. The name Slim Jim suddenly seduces . . . I envision another Italian dish, a slender gentleman named Giacomo—dark, very sexy, and a master of culinary delights (among other things). I am sure this Jim would not limit his wife’s seed spending.

Certainly not on tomatoes, perhaps the most female fruit. My catalogue offers an incredible variety of tomatoes, but none very enticingly named. Green Zebra and Grandma Mary aren’t very lip smacking. I am old enough to know that a tomato used to be a word for a sexy young thing, like Betty Boop or Bettie Page. It makes sense if you think about it, the tight skin covering firm, unblemished flesh, the succulent and juicy insides.

While the taste of tomatoes is not overtly sexual, they have their moments, in Italian food with wine, of course, or eaten warm off the vine, the juice dripping down one’s arm. And I’m sure I’m not the only one to enjoy the sensual pleasure of taking a whole cherry tomato in my mouth—and squishing it. I should develop my own tomato, I decide, and name it simply . . . Betty.

Next I browse the selection of beans. At first I find little in the sexiness department, few provocative names. I do not understand—beans are energetic, forceful—they ramble up fences and trellises, twining, curling, and grasping like possessive lovers. Then a lusty Italian pole bean, Purple Trionfo Violetto, catches my eye. This bean’s vines are reported to overrun trellises, and the ornamental light purple blooms turn into thousands of dark purple beans, whose “nutty sweet flavor is just sublime.”

I feel an instant attraction . . .

I am in the vegetable patch. I wear a low-cut peasant’s blouse with floral print skirt and cradle a French wooden trug in one arm. The trug’s overflowing with multicolored beans, just picked from one of my large and rustic been teepees. My husband gazes upon me and approaches as a slight breeze tousles my hair and skirt. My amoroso tells me he cannot wait until dinner to sample my cooking. I offer him a bean and he lustily bites off the tip. I say the names. They roll off my tongue seductively—Purple Trionfo Violetto, Yellow Romano Burro D’Ingegnole. We look at each other and then the bean teepee, I feel his hand so gentle and . . .

Yuck! Alice, our dalmatian, has nudged her cold wet nose into my palm. “Stop it,” I scold. Oh well. In reality, I’d be wearing blue jeans, a dirt-stained shirt, and sandals with smudges of chicken manure on them, compliments of my tiny urban flock of bantams. I’d probably be slightly irritated that I barely had enough beans for a side dish, and furthermore, I’d botch the pronunciations so terribly that even I wouldn’t know what I was trying to say.

I turn the page to cucumbers. Cucumbers are so erotically charged there’s not a time I buy one that I don’t blushingly consider its reputation. I’m not alone. Andy once told me of a time in the produce aisle when he “just happened” to notice a very attractive woman as she moved toward the cucumber bin. As she approached the cukes, most of the male eyes in the vicinity zeroed in on her (including his, I pointed out). Now here, I think, is also an area where names could count. But before I can improve on the ones the catalogue offers, I notice the spread with melons, the female counterpoints to cucumbers in the produce aisle.

Under the selection of watermelons, I find one that exudes romance, Moon and Stars, an Amish heirloom. Moon and Stars is large, deep green, and sprinkled with yellow spots, like constellations of other galaxies. Some of the spots are larger, moon-like. A wet, sugary constellation that can fit in one’s hand.

The catalogue cantaloups range from the tiny-bosomed, one or two-pound Jenny Lind to the voluptuous five-pound Magnifisweets. A cornucopia of melons, one for every preference.

Melons . . . I’m on a picnic with my man, on a blanket near the bank of a secluded, private pond. Our shoes and our cares temporarily shed as we watch the fish jump, the dragonflies mate. Everything is easy, lazy. A jug of wine, a loaf of bread, a sweet, juicy melon to savor, and . . . we kiss, a long slow summertime kiss that seems to last forever. Thoughts turn to indulging in more of life’s riches, right then and there. I lean back and . . .

“MOM!” a hair-raising yell comes from the other room. It is my darling daughter, informing me that her just-as-darling sister has hit her.

Dang. Why did reality have to remind me about the maternal side of melons, pregnant, so pregnant, with responsibility? I know well what all that passionate abandon can lead to—fruits of love, fruits that yell “Mom” all the time. A rude thunderstorm suddenly drenches the picnicking lovers. Their fires extinguished, they run for cover.

Oh well, it was time to finish the order anyway. I smile in spite of it all. Gardening is sometimes described as “an old lady thing.” An old lady thing? Digging the fertile earth, enjoying the warmth of the sun, watching the birds and bees . . . gardening is about loving, nurturing, touching, smelling, tasting. It is sensual. Even more, it is sexual. Flowering, reproducing, fruiting—these are the primal acts of life.

Oh yes, I nod, as I finish filling out my order. Gardening is the sexiest hobby.

–Sandra Knauf

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